Councillors vote to sell disputed Dundas alley

The city is poised to close and sell a controversial Dundas alley regularly used by school children despite increasingly loud opposition from local residents.

Members of the public works committee voted unanimously Monday to sell a short section of unserviced lane parallel to Sydenham Street to adjacent landowner Len Medeiros, a well-known Dundas developer whose construction company does sewer and water work for the city.

David Jones, a spokesperson for many residents opposed to the sale, said he would speak to a lawyer about what opportunities exist to appeal the decision. But he also expressed hope city council would reverse the decision in a final vote required next week.

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More than 30 people publicly urged councillors to reject the proposed sale Monday, with several complaining about what they saw as the city's willingness to sell a public asset to a "well-connected" buyer over the objections of the larger community. Others suggested it was wrong to "reward" Medeiros after he previously paved a portion of the public alley without permission and briefly erected a fence to block pedestrian access last summer.

Medeiros declined an interview after the meeting, but Dundas Coun. Arlene VanderBeek publicly addressed allegations of favoritism ahead of Monday's vote.

"There is no special privilege involved here, for anyone," she said. "The issue of importance here is safety … safety for children and residents."

VanderBeek pointed to the city staff report, which cited traffic department concerns with residents — particularly children — exiting the alley mid-block on Alma Street on the way to a nearby school. There is no sidewalk on that side of the street, she noted, and no safe path to the nearest intersection with a city crossing guard.

The city could be liable, she argued, if children are encouraged to "jaywalk to get where they want to go."

Residents repeatedly argued the pedestrian-only lane was a safer, less dirty and noisy walking option than busier parallel streets like Sydenham.

Chantal Mancini argued the narrow alley, which has strategic blockages to prevent cut-through car use, is effectively a footpath that encourages the "active transportation" council has vowed to support. "Please uphold the interests of the wider community," she said.

The city has for several years been trying to offload hundreds of "unassumed" alleys, which are mostly unserviced and deemed unnecessary as thoroughfares by the municipality.

But privatizing an unserviced lane that sees regular public use risks setting a dangerous precedent, argued Tanya Jenkins. She urged councillors to treat laneways as "public assets" rather than liabilities to "wash your hands of."

Medeiros spoke briefly to committee, arguing he has worked to improve Dundas and the alley under discussion. He expressed shock that people have "harassed" his family over the dispute. "All this for an alleyway," he said.

A few residents also spoke up in favour of the sale.

Dundas resident Jeff Gowland said some opponents have overreacted and overstated the importance of the lane. "It's an alleyway… not the gates to the Dundas Driving Park," he said.

Councillors voting to close and sell the alley included VanderBeek, Lloyd Ferguson, Chad Collins, Doug Conley and Tom Jackson.

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